Why do orthodontists care about thumb sucking?

Let’s be honest, seeing a one or two year old sucking their thumb is kind of cute.  It makes you want to pick up the baby and give it a big hug and a kiss.  However, thumb sucking is not limited to infants and toddlers.

A little girl sucks on her thumb.

As an orthodontist, I have had patients as old as 50 who are thumb suckers.  These patients relate to me that the thumb sucking is soothing and just helps them relax, especially when it is time to fall asleep.  I have no problem with thumb sucking in regard to the social and emotional benefits it provides to some patients.  We all have different ways of relaxing and easing the stresses of daily life.  Who am I to judge?

The problem with thumb sucking from an orthodontic perspective lies in its effect on the movement of the teeth and the growth of the jaws.  Prolonged thumb sucking over months and years will guarantee the need for braces and probably an expander in the future. The suction your mouth creates as you suck your thumb pushes your cheeks against your upper back teeth and splays your upper front teeth forward and your lower front teeth backward.  The classic thumb sucker has a narrow palate with a crossbite on both sides and their front teeth stick out and don’t touch.  The longer the thumb sucking goes on, the more exaggerated are the effects – especially once the permanent teeth start to grow in.

thumb-sucking

With my own children, I encourage the use of a pacifier to help the babies fall asleep and then when my kids have turned two, the “binky” fairy comes and takes away their binky to give to another deserving child and leaves an exciting toy to replace it.  They struggle for a few nights and then usually settle in without missing a beat.  Thumbs are a lot harder to get rid of.

fixed-palatal-crib

Treatments are available to help with the cessation of thumb sucking.  I will usually recommend a product called Mavala Stop (purchased on Amazon) as a first line of defense and then a habit appliance for patients who continue to struggle.  If you need help easing your child away from their thumb sucking habit, or if you yourself have desires to move on from thumb sucking, contact your local orthodontist.  Your orthodontist can definitely be a huge help in avoiding more serious orthodontic problems down the road.